God, I hate New Years. What the hell is so exciting about being another year closer to death? Every new beginning is just a sad reminder that the last one turned out so miserably.
I take a swig of my Sapporo and peruse the bar. Friends, couples, families: huddled together, laughing without abandon and eagerly awaiting the countdown. This is no place for caustic, self-pitying cynics like me. I should have stayed in my shabby one room apartment and binged on left-over pizza, but I just couldn’t bear to spend another New Years by myself. My life has been so quiet that my thoughts have become louder than screams. At least tonight I’m lonely but not alone.
I glance at my phone: 11.51. Good. Nine more minutes and I can shove yet another dreadful year down the drain.
“Alex? Is that you?” I turn toward the source of that familiar velvety voice.
Messy black hair. Almond green eyes. My high school boyfriend. Damn it, I had no desire to trot down memory lane tonight.
“Matt. I thought you went to London.”
He orders two shots of whiskey and smirks. “That was five years ago. Been keepin’ tabs on me?”
I ignore that and really look at him for the first time in fifteen years. He’s still very attractive, in that dark, scruffy way I used to dig. But the charisma is gone, replaced by hollowness and resignation. Exhaustion radiates off his gaunt frame. Dark shadows surround his eyes. His coat looks like it was picked up from a trash dump some time in the late 80s.
“What the hell happened to you?”
“Life.” He lights a cig with shaky fingers. “You didn’t really expect to hear me on the radio, did you?”
I laugh mirthlessly. “And you never found me on the shelves of Barnes and Noble.”
The bartender pushes two shot glasses toward us. I grab one and chug the whiskey down my throat, wincing as it sets my insides ablaze. “Next round’s on me.”
On we drink. We don’t talk but still the years fall away like the snowflakes outside. Through entirely separate paths we’ve somehow arrived at the same destination. It’s not even like we fucked up; we were just never good enough for the things we loved most. It took us too long to realize that, and now we’re too old and too scared to try something new.
“Hey listen, Al,” Matt begins, after we’ve downed our sixth shots. “Do you wanna come to my place after?”
Do I ever. God knows how long it’s been since I’ve spent the night with another person. His eyes find mine, desperately searching for something to help him make sense of what his life has become. We’re exactly the same, craving comfort and touch, especially from someone who knows who we were before we got lost. In me he remembers a happier time, a happier him.
“Ten. Nine. Eight.”
The inebriated chant reverberated across the bar, saturated with an optimism long-lost to us both. Our eyes hold each other, drunk in nostalgia while the rest of the world brings in a new dawn. What if the best is truly behind us? What if embracing ghosts of the past is the only way we can heal?
“Seven. Six. Five.”
I think of polaroid cameras, the way they capture the most transient moments and pop out photos instantly. Once you press the shutter button it’s done. Love it or hate it, you have a picture. Whatever happens only happens once. You can only move on to the next moment, take the next picture.
“Four. Three. Two.”
I push my lips against his, hot and furious, trying to melt away all the years of disillusionment and loneliness that have marred our lives since high school. His hands snake down my back, drawing my body close to his. And it’s like we’re sixteen again, confident and hopeful and naive. The familiarity is addictive, toxic.
Whatever happens only happens once. The past is a dangerous place. If you visit it too often you’re trapped.
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!!”
Champagne corks hit the ceiling. Fireworks cackle in the sky, like a million fireflies burning on chalkboard. Happy Bloody Birthday, Earth.
I pull away from him, flushed and breathless. The pressure of his lips lingers on mine like a shadow.
“Have a nice life, Matt.”
I grab my jacket and walk out into the snowing night.